Sharon Walls

Dr Abram Wodome was working as a surgeon in an eye hospital in Togo, West Africa’s capital city Lomé, in 2010 — and he was looking for a way out.

He overcame enormous hurdles growing up in a busy household of 16 children, the Wodome family was supported and cared for by their hardworking carpenter father and fish seller mother. Years later, having qualified as a specialist, Dr Wodome believed his best chance of a successful future was to save enough money to move to the west.

A chance encounter with a Mercy Ships eye surgeon changed everything. After a series of events he attributes as divine, Dr Wodome found himself walking up the gangway of the Africa Mercy for the first time, ready to join the Mercy Ships ophthalmic surgical training program.

“I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with Mercy Ships — one that would change my career and the lives of thousands of people.”

Through months of intensive training, Dr Wodome mastered a new, complex cataract surgical procedure known as the Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery (MSICS) method. This cost-effective technique is uniquely suited to low-income countries — and through the medical capacity building program on board, Dr Wodome learned to perform the procedure – and even more crucially – how to teach it to his surgical colleagues.

Dr Wodome received more than just a fresh perspective on a new medical procedure; the mentoring programme renewed his sense of purpose and potential — and transformed the way he saw his own life calling: “I began to see clearly that I had something to do there in Africa … that God had given me a role to play in the fight against cataract blindness in Togo — and that change was really possible.”

Instead of longing to live overseas, Dr Wodome became passionate about changing lives right there in Wst Africa.

Putting training to the test

In the years after he learned the new method for cataract surgery, Dr Wodome has lived up to his calling — although it has not been without its obstacles. Many barriers stood between him and his newfound vision for his country. Chief among these were inadequate teaching equipment, limited surgical supplies, and financially-strapped patients unable to pay for surgery.

The return of the Africa Mercy to Togo in 2012 bought a fresh wave of hope and hands-on help. Mercy Ships staff, including eye surgeon Dr Glenn Strauss, supported Dr Wodome to find creative solutions to every challenge. This included donating extensive medical equipment to increase surgical capabilities, as well as connecting him with the resources and means to begin a charity and an eye clinic. After getting his facilities off the ground and accumulating all the tools needed to perform effective surgery, Dr Wodome was ready to put the techniques he had learned on board to the test.

By 2017, Dr Wodome’s annual cataract surgeries had quadrupled and represented almost half of Togo’s total ophthalmic surgeries. He continued training other local medical professionals in the same MSICS procedure he’d learned from Mercy Ships. As of 2020, more than 30 ophthalmologists across Togo and Benin have benefited from his program.

Dr Wodome’s clinic, Clinique Ophtalmologique Lumière Divine (COLD), became the premier private clinic for cataract surgeries in the country, performing more than 750 cataract surgeries each year. In a continued spirit of humility and humanitarian care, he uses a large portion of the clinic’s profits to fund his own charity venture. By 2020, the clinic has provided free and dramatically reduced cost cataract surgeries to more than 2,000 people.

In 2021, however, Mercy Ships and Dr Wodome are partnering again to make safe, quality cataract surgery in Togo more accessible than ever before.

Strengthening surgeon training 

While Dr Wodome’s training outcomes have been largely successful, limited time and resource mean only a certain number of participants can receive training. In response to these limitations, Dr Wodome proposed to enhance the training opportunities by setting up an MSICS Teaching Institute at his NGO’s ophthalmology clinic, COLD. The program will streamline his training and give participants access to higher quality resources to both practice and perform surgery.

Through the Institute, it is Dr Wodome’s hope to see improved quality of ophthalmic care in cataract blindness, by facilitating up to 4,000 additional surgeries each year.

Mercy Ships is committed to coming alongside Dr Wodome to make this vision a reality. In order to support the program over a three-year period, we will be funding training costs for 18 participants, donating essential teaching equipment, and contributing to training remotely.

Mercy Ships medical capacity building program creates an invaluable opportunity to partner with government officials and local surgeons in the countries we visit. For more than 30 years, Mercy Ships has collaborated with some of the most driven, dedicated, and talented healthcare professionals across Africa. It is our honour to introduce you to these Heroes of Healthcare, including Togo’s leading ophthalmic surgeon, Dr Abram Wodome.

 

Leaving a lasting legacy in Togo

More than a decade has passed since Dr Wodome and Mercy Ships first worked together. Due to hands-on training and continued assistance, the MSICS method has become the standard cataract surgical procedure in Togo. Thousands of lives have been changed as a result — and the ripple effects aren’t slowing down any time soon.

Ready to discover how your skills and experience can make a difference in Africa? It’s a big team that makes mercy happen!

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

 

 

Sharon Walls

When he only three years old, his legs began to bow outwards, and slowly the glances of his friends and neighbours filled with pity and scorn.  His mum felt enormous pressure to find a doctor to fix her son’s legs. “We didn’t have money for that,” Youma said. “So, I stayed home, waiting for something to come from God.”

As he grew older, Diacko stopped venturing far from his home out of fear of being mocked. Even his friends would tease him, taunting him and calling him, “Diacko, the bowlegged boy!”

Often in the evenings, his limbs would ache, and his mother would have to massage the painful muscles in his legs to ease the pain. The winter would affect him quite badly, and Youma would have to encourage him to get out of bed in the chilly mornings.

Due to the lack of medical care in their area, it seemed that Diacko would spend his life in continued pain. Until one day they found hope; Youma saw a television advertisement about free corrective surgery offered by Mercy Ships.  At first, I couldn’t understand what it was about,” Youma said. “But, when someone explained to me that a (hospital) ship was coming to Senegal and could provide surgery for my son, I decided to find out more.”

When they discovered that Mercy Ships could help Diacko, his family decided to do everything they could to get him to the ship. “If Diacko did not have this surgery, he would have become stuck,” Youma said. “And as he grew up, he would experience more and more pain.”

Mother and son travelled over 300 miles from their village to where Mercy Ships was located. Soon, Diacko was onboard the hospital ship and meeting other children who suffered from similar conditions for the first time. He learned he was not the only one with this condition!

After the reconstructive surgery which straightened his legs, Diako launched into physiotherapy with earnest determination to strengthen his legs and complete the healing process. Many weeks passed, and sometimes the journey was tough for this brave little boy. But he was surrounded by love and support from his mum and the community onboard the ship. It wasn’t easy, but he would push on through, and every day there would be some improvement in his strength and movement. Youma proudly watched her son’s progress.

Finally, it was time to return to his family, and what a spectacular homecoming it was. Diacko had become a minor celebrity in the village, and Youma believes that his story of hope and healing will be told for decades to come.

“We achieved this dream together,” Youma said. “I was dreaming that he would be healed!”

 

Find out how your skills and experience can help provide essential surgery for kids like Diacko

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Walls

Kiwis doing the remarkable, overcoming COVID complexities, and an amazing travel plan for new volunteers.

Rhema announcer Andrew Urquart talks to Sharon Walls from Mercy Ships about the fabulous assistance in place to help Kiwis volunteers get to the Africa Mercy, returning to Senegal for service in a few months – AND they discuss the new Mercy Ship now on sea trials and getting ready for the first voyage.

Listen to the interview podcast HERE 

Learn more about the volunteer opportunities that fit your skillset, and find the travel assistance details 
maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

 

 

Sharon Walls

Prof Raphiou Diallo

Our Heroes of Healthcare series features incredible medical professionals spanning the continent of Africa. From Benin’s first Reconstructive Plastic surgeon to an inspiring biomedical engineer technician, this series highlights the outstanding men and women who are changing the healthcare landscape in their countries.

Today, we bring you the story of Professor Raphiou Diallo, a maxillofacial surgeon in Guinea, West Africa who has a unique history with Mercy Ships.

Through our medical capacity building program, Mercy Ships strives to leave a lasting impact in each nation we serve by partnering with medical professionals and strengthening local healthcare systems. Few people bring to life the importance of lasting impact like Professor Raphiou Diallo.

Prof Diallo is a maxillofacial surgeon from Guinea, West Africa who has a rich history with Mercy Ships. Our stories first wove together in 1998, when the Africa Mercy spent her first field service in Conakry, Guinea. Here, Prof Diallo connected with volunteer surgeons on board and joined our surgical mentoring program. In the decades since, he has become an invaluable part of our work in Guinea and neighbouring Sierra Leone.

“We operate as a team, and it is a great pleasure for me to discover this humanitarian NGO, which has very high human values in respecting the culture of the people for whom they come to help,” said Prof Diallo.

Seeing a drastic drop in severe cases

One of Prof Diallo’s early mentors onboard the Africa Mercy was Dr Gary Parker, surgeon and Chief Medical Officer at the time. Under Dr Gary’s guidance, Prof Diallo — along with fellow trainee, Dr Mamadou Karamba Kaba —specialized in cleft-lip and cleft palate repairs. They went on to teach other Guinean surgeons to do the same.

In 2018 — a full 20 years after Prof Diallo’s first visit onboard — the Africa Mercy returned to Guinea once more. Early patient selection screenings revealed a staggering testament to Prof Diallo and Dr Kaba’s work. In a group of 6,000, we would normally find hundreds of cleft-lip and palate patients seeking help. During this screening, the number of patients with this condition dropped to just six.

This incredible feat illustrates just how drastically cases have dropped in Guinea, thanks in large part to surgeon mentoring onboard the Africa Mercy and Prof Diallo’s commitment to this surgical speciality long after our ship sailed away.

 

Training the next generation of dental surgeons

Prof Diallo’s history of mentorship and training with Mercy Ships has manifested into a desire to provide training for many other Guinean healthcare professionals — specifically, dental surgeons.

In 2018, Prof Diallo brought this dream to Mercy Ships. He proposed that we work together toward strengthening dental surgeon training in Guinea by fostering a space for education. Together, we planned and partnered with a local institution, the Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry, to renovate the university’s department of dentistry in record time. The renovated buildings now house several classrooms, a dental simulation room, a dental laboratory for training purposes, and a large clinical room. Prof Diallo also partnered with Mercy Ships to launch dental training programs that empower local students with the skills, education, and experience they need to thrive.

Through the school and clinic, students can put their classroom knowledge to the test by providing hands-on care for patients, some of whom are battling oral diseases or even maxillofacial tumours.

“We had said to ourselves if we always continue to see tumours of such an advanced level, it is probably because there is also a problem of training. By focusing on dentists, we will be able, in the long term, to diagnose issues at a very early stage and to refer these patients to specialized structures for treatment.”

This hub of dental training is already having transformative results. Thanks to state of the art X-ray equipment in the dental school, Diallo’s team was able to diagnose a young man’s maxillary tumour at an early stage and perform life-changing surgery.

 

Leaving a lasting impact on Guinea’s population

“I am sure that if the project continues it will enable us to equip the cities of Guinea with excellent dentists, who will not only be able to prevent patients from complications at very advanced stages but also to diagnose benign and malignant tumours at the very early stages,” said Prof Diallo. “We are convinced that the [work] of Mercy Ships in initial and continuous training will have a lasting impact on the Guinean population and that of the West African sub-region.”

With a rising rate of qualified surgeons in Guinea, patients with tumours, facial cellulitis, noma, and more will be able to receive the lifesaving and life-changing treatment they need.

Keep up the fantastic work, Professor Diallo! You’re a Hero of Healthcare not just to us, but to so many patients and medical professionals in Guinea.

 

Sharon Walls

Kea Kids TV hears from Mia, Campbell, Oliver and Lucas about moving from the green grass of the Waikato, to living on a ship heading for Africa. This is a refreshing look at their mercy mission on the water, from the children’s perspective.

Jeremy Pollard is the new principal for the Mercy Ships school for crew children onboard. He and Ruth tell the Waikato Times what inspired them to sign their family up for two years on board a hospital ship.

Sharon Walls

VIDEO : The new Mercy Ship is close to sea trials – that’s a Warrant of Fitness for a ship almost ready to sail. We know you want to check it out for yourself, so come along on a quick tour of the Global Mercy™ with Jim, our Marine Executive Consultant. He has been with Mercy Ships for many years, so he knows our ships inside and out.
Will we see you on the Global Mercy™ when she makes her maiden voyage to Africa? Maybe there’s a volunteer role with you name on it?
maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Sharon Walls

VIDEO: Vivien tells it like it is. She has been part of the Mercy Ships frontline screening team, examining thousands of patients hopeful for life-transforming surgery in West Africa. It’s one of our most challenging yet fulfilling crew roles.

We’ve got a Big Ask – and it’s a bit risky – but say yes and your courage and compassion will change lives. We need to get the Africa Mercy underway to bring essential surgery to West Africa and we need volunteers willing to spend two months on board caring for our crew and patients.  Can you come with us?

Find out more about the opportunity for you to be part of our return to Senegal

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

 

Sharon Walls

Financial accountability, transparency and excellence are pillars of the finance departments onboard our ships. Many times people who work in finance are surprised to learn their skills are vital to the function of a hospital ship. Moise shares about what he does onboard, and why is role is so fulfilling.

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

 

Sharon Walls

: Kids interview kids. The Pollard family heads to the Africa Mercy. Kea Kids TV talks to the children while the Waikato Times hears their parents perspective on their adventures ahead.

 

 

 

Watch the KeaKidsTV interview, and read the Waikato Times article here

 

 

Sharon Walls

‘We’ll make Christmas as festive as possible’ says Harry, the Baker onboard the Africa Mercy.  We asked him what he is baking for the crew during the holidays.  ‘White and brown bread, surprise bread, currant buns, baguettes, Swedish bread, Stromboli, I’m always trying new things,’ said Harry, who is from The Netherlands. ‘Normally I would work with a fellow baker, but I’m the lucky one who can bake for the 140 volunteers that are on the ship during the holidays.’

He also shares with us a delicious holiday recipe you can make at home, below. 

Harry is a sturdy man, with an impressive moustache hidden behind his face mask and a twinkle in his eyes. He has the looks of a true seafarer —but he hasn’t been sailing for long at all. He first came onboard the Africa Mercy in 2018, after a 30-year career as a truck driver travelling throughout Europe.  Harry said: ‘In 2016 I got an email from Mercy Ships inviting me to a weekend on a ship to get to know the organization. It was a great weekend, but they didn’t need a truck driver. What they did need was a baker. I was a bit disappointed, but then someone said to me: “Well, maybe you can get retrained and be a baker.” I wasn’t convinced — yet.’

Diving into a New Skill
Harry felt enthusiastic about Mercy Ships, but was doubtful about a new profession. In early 2017, weeks after his visit to the ship, he signed up for online baking classes and found an internship at a bakery. ‘Becoming a baker was a deeply felt and conscious choice. It was different from my previous job, which I kind of rolled into. I had my truck driver’s license from my time in the military, so becoming a truck driver was an obvious choice. But this time I really felt that becoming a baker was what I needed to do. That this was my purpose.’

‘And with this purpose, I was able to put in all the hard work. I did the internship along with driving a truck for 70 hours a week. I fit in any studying during those moments that I needed to rest during my rides.’

The hard work paid off. In the summer of 2018, his supervisor said that Harry was ready to bake on his own. He didn’t waste any time. A week later he was in the docks of Las Palmas, Tenerife, preparing to sail to Guinea for his first field service onboard the Africa Mercy.

From Polish Pretzels to Swedish Bread
Baking bread isn’t a routine for Harry. He tries to find out what people like and experiments with bread from different cultures. ‘I try to bake something from every nation we have on the ship. I ask the crew what kind of bread they like from their home country. I got all kinds of recipes and started trying them out. The Polish Pretzels and the Stromboli, for instance, are a success and return on the menu. Currently, I’m trying out Swedish bread. And these new experiments are gone first, always,’ said a proud Harry.

Christmas on the Africa Mercy
But then came 2020, and like everyone else, we had to adapt. In September, Harry decided to come back to the ship and stay for at least a year. ‘It’s a lot quieter now. Everybody is keeping a safe distance, wearing face masks and spending more time by themselves in their cabins. We’re all trying our very best to make it work, also during the holidays. We’re going to celebrate Christmas and make it as festive as possible. My contribution will be a French brioche and a four-layer chocolate bread shaped like a star or a Christmas tree.’

Harry’s Dream
‘I’m so grateful for the work I get to do. I’m learning so much and by baking my bread I fuel the crew who is helping out those who need it the most. And,’ Harry added jokingly, ‘I get to work in the sweetest department of the ship. But what I saw on my first field service in Guinea set a new purpose for me: little children who had to get by with just one meal a day, maybe not even that. I would love to bake bread for children like that. I’m not ready to retire. Let me bake bread, for the children.’

Harry’s Holiday Recipe: Stromboli
Harry shares a recipe that is perfect – and easy –  for the holidays. And his famous Stromboli suits Mercy Ships very well. Like the crew, it’s a fusion dish, combining many fantastic flavours.

Ingredients:
– pizza dough (standard recipe)
– 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
– 2 spring onions
– 150 grams ham
– 100 grams mozzarella
– 100 grams grated Gouda cheese
– 1 egg beaten
– 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Start the recipe when the dough starts to rise:
1. Roll out the dough into an elongated piece and brush it with the mustard. Spread out the spring onions, ham, mozzarella, and Gouda cheese over the dough.
2. Roll up the dough from the long side with a rolling pin and place the rolling pin seam down on a baking tray with baking paper.
3. Cover the dough with beaten egg and spread out the parmesan cheese.
4. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
5. Cut into pieces and serve the Stromboli.